Avoid clever-author syndrome in storytelling

When we’ve mastered some skill – say ball handling in basketball – we often like to show off. So when we’re on the sidewalk with the neighbor kids, we’ll spin the ball on a finger or perform some gravity-defying dribbling trick.

When writers resort to such showing off in a story, they’re guilty of clever-author syndrome. A term coined by CSFW’s David Smith, clever-author syndrome occurs when a writer uses literary razzle dazzle not to move the story forward but just to show us that he’s really smart.

For example, you might use unnecessarily large words that the majority of your readers never would know. Or you might make obscure references. Or you might be guilty of purple prose.

Just as a basketball player wouldn’t show off in a game to demonstrate he’s a great ball handler (the Harlem Globetrotters aside), so a writer shouldn’t show off in a story just to demonstrate he’s clever. In both cases, it’s vanity rather than focusing on what really matters: winning the game for the basketball player – or advancing the story for the writer.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.